As soon as visitors step off the vaporetto in front of the famous San Marco Square they are inundated with literally hundreds of mask choices; some are good quality, many are not. It can be initially hard to distinguish between what a good quality mask is and a cheaper one until you do some comparative shopping. For expert advice as well as to purchase handmade masks from reputable dealers visit one or all of these famous mask shops in Venice.
With the Venice Carnival rapidly approaching this February 26th through March 8th, masks are a central focus for both visitors and locals alike. Visitors travel from all over for the world to attend the masked balls, join the festivities, and to photograph the colorful masks and costumes worn throughout Venice. Although the tradition of Carnival and wearing masks dates back to the 1300s, both practices officially ended in Venice around 1797. For years it was long forgotten only to be read about in history books until 1979, when a small group of dedicated artists revived the ancient art of mask making and helped shape Carnival into the wonderful and theatrical tradition it is today.
Mask Shopping at La Bottega dei MascareriSergio and Massimo Boldrin are two talented brothers who played a huge role in the revival of the lost art of mask making in the late 70’s. You can meet the world-renowned artists and view their high-quality hand-made masks at their famous shop, La Bottega dei Mascareri, located in the heart of the Rialto market. Stepping into their colorful store feels as though you have been transported into an old-world shop in Venice. Many masks in the style of traditional characters from the Commedia dell’ arte such as Pantalone; the Venetian merchant, Arlecchino; the colorful Harlequin, and Zanni; the clown, peer down from the mask-filled walls.
Sergio is personally available to explain the techniques and materials used to create the high-quality masks to visitors. Customers will also need his assistance in deciding between the many beautifully designed pieces that the shop features. Their theatrical quality masks have been featured in many festivals, fashion shows and films including the Stanley Kubrick thriller, Eyes Wide Shut. The shop has been featured in a wide variety of newspaper and magazine articles as well, including the New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Conde Nast Traveler. Don’t miss this colorful shop located at the base of Rialto Bridge.
Alberto Sarria’s Traditional Masks and MarionettesAlberto Sarria has been creating fine masks and Marionettes since 1980. Alberto’s shop in San Polo specializes in many traditional masks such as the Bauta, a pointed angular mask originally meant to cover the wearer’s face thus hiding their identity and social status from the masses. As the Bauta is the most popular and traditional mask in Venice, one might find it in various colors and styles. But Alberto offers more than just the traditional designs found in most stores; his shop showcases many original designs such as the red and gold abstract Picasso or masks featuring pieces of bills and tickets from the world-famous Fenice Opera House layered onto them. He also specializes in handmade Marionettes or puppets which hang lovingly from every available space on the walls, in the windows and from the ceiling of his tiny shop. His intricately designed characters include the colorful Marionetta Arlecchino and the Bauta Uomo, two traditional characters from the history of the Venice theater. This famous artist has participated in many local and international exhibits in Venice, Japan, Spain Germany, and recently in Hong Kong. Meeting Alberto is the highlight of any mask shopping excursion in Venice, as he happily offers personal assistance and advice individually to his customers.
Cavalier Fine Antiques and Masks
Located across the expansive San Marco Square in Santo Stefano is Gianni and Alberto Cavalier’s shop, Cavalier. This interesting little store is packed with fine antiques and artifacts for the home. This father and son partnership specialize in a very special-type of wooden mask that cannot be found in other shops. The hand-carved wooden masks are intricately-designed and hand-painted with a fine gold or silver overlay. These masks are works of art and not meant to be worn.
They also feature a unique antique-type lamp called a Moretti, a fine high-quality carved wooden lamp also covered with a gold or silver foil overlay. A great place to shop if your looking to purchase traditional art and antiques.
Ca’ Macana Mask Shop and Workshop
Ca’ Macana opened its doors in 1980 and since then has been a one-stop shop for all things Carnival, featuring a wide selection of costumes, masks and garments. They offer a large variety of wearable leather, character, and animal masks. Visitors who would like to learn about the fine art of mask making can take a two-and-a-half hour workshop at Ca’macana. This class is a fun way to connect with a local artist and at the end of the lesson, students will get to take home their very own creation: a fun reminder of their time in Venice. Shorter workshops are available for participants to learn about the history of masks in Venice, the Carnival, and in the theater. The workshops are conveniently available in many languages such as English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
Ivan Minio Traditional Masks and Photography
Ivan Minio is a local mask maker and photographer whose colorful store and workshop is located in the Cannaregio district. Unique mask designs and photographs of iconic Venice (taken by Ivan himself) line the walls of this small shop. He features a variety of unique masks decorated with playing cards or photographs not typically found in other stores. Among the many traditional-style masks that Ivan carries is the disturbing character of the Plague Doctor. The doctor’s white mask is immediately recognizable by its long beak-like nose and may or may not have on glasses. This creepy character is based on a real mask that doctors who treated the plague back in the 1300s would wear; the long beak was meant to hold aromatic herbs that (they thought) protected them from the plague. Overall, a unique shop to visit and a great place to purchase moderately-priced masks and high-quality photographs of Venice.
Look beyond the typical souvenir shop prevalent in Venice with a visit to one or all of these famous mask shops. Mask shopping is a fun way to meet the local artists, learn about the history of mask making, as well as to purchase one or more high-quality and handmade masks.
- Carnival in Venice (amandadalaba.wordpress.com)
- Carnevale in Venezia – 2013 (blogginginitaly.com)
- Carnival of Venice (en.wikipedia.org)
- Famous Mask Makers of Venice (christinezenino.com)
- Carnival of Venice Italy 2013: Elaborate Masks and Costumes Prevail (vinoconvistablog.me)